Beware of Middle Eastern Politics





By Mordechai Kedar

If and when the Iranian threat weakens or disappears , we may witness a weakening or the complete disappearance of the main reason Saudi Arabia and the Emirates developed relations with Israel

For the past few years, there seems to be a gradual improvement in the relations between Israel and important Sunni Moslem states, among them Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates. These newly-formed relations are in addition to the peace agreements Israel signed with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994 that have, in large measure, continued to be upheld. Likewise, there are those who consider the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO a peace agreement that includes recognition of Israeli statehood.

In light of these developments, Israeli politicians regularly talk approvingly of Israel’s status in the region, emphasizing how it has improved in an unprecedented fashion of late, and suggesting that this reflects a measure of their own personal success.

With President Trump’s “Deal of the Century lurking in the background,” those very same politicians may soon attempt to use the claims of “Israel’s ongoing improvement in regional status” to justify payment in hard Israeli currency for strengthening those relations and further advancing them.

Without casting doubts on the fact that Israel’s status in the region has improved, we must be extremely careful not to fall prey to Middle Eastern political euphoria. After all, we are dealing here with a political system vastly different from those we are accustomed to seeing in other regions of the world.

First, it is important to understand the character of our relations with Egypt and Jordan. Despite the peace agreements with those countries, both countries take explicitly anti-Israeli positions on every vote in any international organization: Egypt has waged an intensive international campaign against Israel’s nuclear project for years, demanding that the Dimona facility be under international supervision and presenting Israel as a state posing a nuclear threat to world peace.

Egypt has not honored dozens of agreements it signed with Israel aimed at creating normalization between the two countries, unless those agreements advanced Egyptian interests in: security, energy, tourism, industry in the QIZ free trade areas and shipping in the Suez Canal. In most other fields – those normally cooperated on by two neighboring states, such as health, culture, academia and trade –  the peace between Israel and Egypt, despite its 40-year existence, has had little positive impact. For this reason, the peace between Egypt and Israel is more accurately described as “enhanced non-belligerence.”

The peace with Jordan is no warmer, with Jordan leading a virulently negative public relations war against Israel over Jerusalem, demanding the division of Israel’s historic and eternal capital and inciting against Israel in international forums such as UNESCO and UNHRC (headed by a cousin of the Jordanian king). Jordan is at the forefront of an international effort to establish a Palestinian state on Israeli soil that will most certainly become a Hamas terror state, along the lines of the one in Gaza.

Jordan, like Egypt, cooperates with Israel only as far as this cooperation furthers its own interest, striking an anti-Israel stance that does not differ at all from those of Israel’s most implacable enemies on every other issue.

Much has been written about Palestinian violations of the Oslo Accords. It is enough for us to recall the Second Intifada which cost the lives of over a thousand Israelis and the terror state established in Gaza to realize that the Oslo Accords have, for all practical purposes—ceased to exist.

True, the worst peace is better than the best war, but Israel must take care not to fall prey to delusionary conceptions of “a new Middle East” and find itself signing a “peace agreement” which it can ensure will be honored.

Second, we must be aware of the fact that the rapprochement with the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates is solely due to the Iranian threat. Their fear of Iran has simply become greater than their historic, religious, national and cultural hatred of the Jewish state that emerged –despite their opposition – on “Palestinian soil.”

Accordingly, if and when the Iranian threat weakens or disappears in some way, we may witness a weakening or the complete disappearance of the main reason Saudi Arabia and the Emirates developed relations with Israel and relied on the Jewish state.

Third, we must remember constantly that because we are modern, liberal, democratic, and above all, Jews, we are seen as the “Other” in the Arab world surrounding us. ” In Middle East, the “Other” is traditionally not “one of us” –and therefore, by definition,  an enemy.

Egypt and Jordan have accepted our existence, and even if all the other Middle Eastern states accept that we are here, it will not be because they believe that the state of Israel has the right to exist, but only because it is a fact on the ground, only because Israel has succeeded in forcing itself on its neighbors and their efforts to destroy it have been unsuccessful.

Our neighbors have a deep-seated religious problem in accepting a “Jewish State” or even a “state belonging to Jews” because in their Islamic tradition, Judaism is a religion that has superseded, the Jews are not a nation but members of religious communities in whatever countries they left to immigrate to “Falestin,” the land sanctified to Islam alone. Moreover, the very existence of a Jewish state is viewed as the reincarnation of Judaism after Islam had already nullified it (and Christianity) and forced the Jews to live as “dhimmi” – protected subjects whose rights are limited and who are subject to the mercies of Islam. That is why Israel’s existence as a Jewish state threatens the very existence of Islam.  This is what brought then Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, whose country enjoyed diplomatic relations with Israel, to declare that “a thousand years will pass before I recognize Israel as a Jewish state.”


Fourth, Middle Eastern politics, especially with regard to Israel, are not a one-way street. Once there were official Israeli delegations, with the Israeli flag flying outside their offices, in Tunisia, Mauritania and Qatar, but the outbreak of the Second Intifada saw them disappear from these countries. After the fact, it became clear that the price Israel had “paid” in order to open these delegations was entirely wasted.

Regarding Qatar, we must remember that this state – once home to an official Israeli delegation – is the main and permanent supporter of Hamas, and that the Al Jazeera channel it operates and guides, constantly broadcasts hardline anti-Israel and anti-Jewish content .

Fifth, Middle Eastern politics are replete with instances of treachery, betrayal and even wars between the Arab states, although they have all signed the Arab League Covenant which forbids any belligerent action of one Arab state against another. For example: Saudi Arabia and Syria took part in the First Gulf War against Iraq under Saddam in January 1991, led by the US and NATO countries, with the goal of forcing Iraq to leave Kuwait.

Egypt battled the royalists in Yemen during the 1960-1962 civil war in that country, even employing chemical weapons. In addition, Egypt waged long term wars against Libya and Sudan. Syria and other Arab states invaded Lebanon in1976 as a result of that country’s civil war, with Syria remaining as an occupying power until 2005, although the civil war ended with the 1989 Taif Agreement.

The conclusion we are forced to reach from the treacherous and subversive tactics these Arab states employed against one another is that we cannot expect our relations with them to be better than those that they maintain with each other.

The reasons enumerated above explain why we must exercise extreme caution and refrain from running blindly toward the chance of reaching agreements with other Arab states. We certainly must refrain from paying (again!!) in hard currency – such as relinquishing territory and security arrangements — for a paper that contains the word “peace” and may not be worth the price of the paper on which it is written and the cost of the ink spilled on it.

Israel has to change the paradigm with which it has attempted to achieve peace with its neighbors.  It must tell the Arab states in the clearest way possible: “Peace with you will have to be in exchange for peace with us. Israel is a flourishing and successful state, an island of sanity in the middle of a sea of insanity, a blooming oasis in the midst of a blood soaked desert, and the state of the region at present does not cause Israel to desire to join a problematic and devastated Middle East.” That is why the question is not what price Israel should pay for a peace agreement with its disastrous surroundings, but what the Arab states can offer Israel in exchange for that peace agreement.

When Israel’s politicians begin thinking and talking in this vein, they will find that the Arab world begins to respect them. Middle Eastern culture grants peace only to those perceived as strong, dangerous and invincible, sure of the justice of their ways and unwilling to lick the soles of their enemies’ shoes.

That is the only way to gain respect in our region and therefore the only way to achieve peace, or to be more exact, to be left in peace.

In the Middle East, those who talk about their desire for peace discover that the price of that elusive peace soon rises to a level they are unable to pay, resulting in bits and pieces of worthless agreements. In contrast, those who say that they are not interested in peace and act accordingly, acquire, at reasonable cost, the modicum of peace the problematic region surrounding us can offer.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. He is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel and abroad. He composed this analysis excursively for IISS.

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